Postgraduate law degrees: Judge the merits of a Masters

A law degree isn't just for lawyers, says Russ Thorne

Postgraduate training in law can provide students with plenty of opportunities: a legal career is just one of them. Existing lawyers might seek to augment their skills with a Masters qualification. Those on other career paths might add another dimension to their knowledge with a little legal learning. Some might simply enjoy the academic rigour of legal study.

While it's not the only reason to study law, many postgraduates are searching for the necessary alchemy to turn their first degrees into a legal career. A popular route is to gain a graduate diploma in law (GDL) or other qualifying law degree, such as a relevant Masters (see below), followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for aspiring solicitors, or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for trainee barristers.

Many universities are offering these courses for full-time study over two years, as well as through part-time and distance learning, where timescales vary. Students with no previous legal background can expect a challenging programme, says Angela Smith, careers manager at the University of Law in York. "It's fair to say that students find the GDL, in particular, an intense experience. It is effectively all the building blocks of English law in a year, rather than spread over the conventional three-year law degree."

As well as a being a tough experience for the mind, the GDL/LPC route can be strenuous for the finances. Fees vary between institutions but, as a guide, the University of Law charges a total of £7,240 for the full-time GDL, while the LPC costs £10,965. According to Smith, some students gain scholarships or career development loans to help with the costs, and those who secure training contracts with law firms may have their fees paid for. Unsurprisingly, competition is fierce.

Although they incur the added costs of their qualifying law degree or GDL, postgraduates do have an advantage when it comes to legal study. Stephanie Innes, currently studying part-time at the University of Law, believes her French and Spanish degree has given her a head start. "It was heavily focused on the study of literature, which has prepared me for the volume of reading required," she says. "Also, language graduates tend to enjoy talking – and arguing – both of which are useful skills in this job."

Justin Kopelowitz, director at legal recruitment consultancy DMJ Recruitment, supports the idea that non-law graduates may actually be better off. "Many law firms share the view that candidates who have completed a non-legal degree before completing the GDL are more likely to be well-rounded individuals," he explains. "Generally, undergraduate degrees that develop a student's research skills and academic writing ability are seen as desirable. Students who have studied subjects such as history, economics, English literature and languages are particularly popular."

Those with a qualifying law degree or GDL who want to enter the legal profession aren't limited to the LPC qualification. Another option is to follow the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) path, which offers the GDL and a graduate fast-track programme (involving around nine months of part-time study) to become a chartered legal executive. Candidates specialise in one particular area of law, rather than training in many different aspects, as those on the LPC/BPTC might.

The GFT programme costs around £2,000, which may make it financially appealing for those interested in focusing on one area of legal practice. "Chartered legal executives are found in over 60 per cent of The Lawyer's list of top 100 and top 200 UK law firms," adds Paul Hutchinson of CILEx, "but it's not just legal firms that employ them. They fill key legal roles in a wide variety of government bodies, local authorities and business organisations."

Existing lawyers can also benefit from the range of degrees. According to Sally Weston, head of the department of law at Bournemouth University, a Master of laws (LLM) course would provide in-depth training. "The LLM curriculum is designed to develop critical evaluation and analysis. LLM students interpret the meaning of words and abstract concepts, skills which are useful for law and in other careers that require analysis of complex qualitative data," she says.

Even in a vocational profession such as law, the competition for jobs is stiff, adds Susan Blake, associate dean and course director of the LLM in civil litigation and dispute resolution at City University London. A Masters can be valuable in finding that extra edge, she says. "It's important to look for a course that will really help you to build your expertise and grow your contacts. If you want to go into a specialist area of practice, a Masters course in the area can be very valuable."

Blake's view is shared by employers. "We encourage our lawyers to take on postgraduate study – it benefits them in their careers," says David Shufflebotham, human resources director at Osborne Clarke. "In some areas of the law, such as intellectual property and tax, postgraduate study is considered almost a pre-requisite."

Postgraduate law could offer intellectual rewards as well. Charlie King gained a Masters in medical ethics and law from King's College London after his first degree in philosophy inspired him. "Every situation is filled with complex issues and problems," he explains. "I became fascinated with the law, as it has to find a solution to these problems every day. My course provided me with the opportunity to delve into the legal aspects of a subject that thrilled me."

Beyond vocational motivation or purely academic interest, another reason students might consider law is for the professional benefits that legal training could offer their careers. Peter Odell, senior lecturer and programme director for the Masters in law at the University of Sheffield, explains that the course is particularly attractive to students who are not certain they want a career in legal practice. "They take the MA in order to enhance their CV and either go on to pursue careers in business or the public sector, or go on to take a PhD in law and become academic lawyers."

Anyone with their eye on an international career might opt for an overseas joint Masters in business administration (MBA) and law, such as the one offered by the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada. The global legal perspective will be invaluable in business, argues programme director Steve Maguire. "The roles of business and law have become intertwined and continue to become more so as globalisation evolves," he says. "Developing skills in both areas is beneficial to careers in both fields."

As with the GDL and LPC, many Masters courses can be studied full- or part-time, and there are often distance learning options. The Open University offers an LLM, for example, which allows students to study for around 12 hours a week over three years, alongside their careers. "It's aimed at those wanting to explore the place and role of law in an increasingly globalised society," explains Carol Howells, LLM qualification director at the university.

Whatever their reasons for coming to law, students will take away transferable skills in self-starting, group work, research and communication, says Odell, any of which will benefit a range of careers. In addition, the subject is its own reward. "Law is interesting, stimulating, challenging, rewarding, relevant, useful, transferable – and fun," he says.

For those beginning or switching to a legal career, the effort is worth it, assures Smith. "They can become valued members of a profession and build lasting relationships with clients and colleagues," she says. "The majority of my students persevere, because they recognise the immense rewards a career in the law can bring."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?